Q. You recently wrote that one way to roll back to Windows 7 after an upgrade to Windows 10 is to restore an image backup of the Win7 system. I’m sure that would technically work, but will the free upgrade not cancel the Win7 license? Could we discover the Win7 system can no longer be activated with the original key? I’m actually interested in being able to use both versions of Windows in parallel, but there’s still the underlying concern.
A. Yes, if you roll Win10 back to Win7 (or Win8) on the same hardware, the old license will still work. I’ve done it on several different machines without incident. The original OS passes the activation checks normally.
But the usual caveats apply, just as they did before Win10:
For full, retail copies of Windows (where you buy the OS separately from the hardware) the license will work with any suitable PC hardware — but only on one system at a time.
For OEM versions of Windows (where the OS comes with the PC), the license usually stays with the original hardware, even if the system came with setup/recovery discs. OEM versions of Windows usually can’t be moved to other PCs and, as with retail Windows, can have only one installation at a time.
Whether retail or OEM Windows, once you upgrade to Win10 you’ve effectively transferred your single license to the new OS. (Technically, it’s a conversion, but it works like a transfer.)
When you roll back or undo a Win10 installation, the license effectively transferred back to the original setup — at no time do you have two, separate licenses.
So it’s not kosher to reinstall your original Win8/7 installation “in parallel” with the new Win10, using either your setup discs or image backups. That would be using the same single Windows license for two Windows instances — the upgrade and the original Win7 setup.
In short: Windows 10 is a free upgrade — it’s not a free copy.
That said, there is a 100 percent legitimate way to run Win10 and Win8/7 in parallel:
- Leave your original setup alone; i.e., don’t upgrade it.
- Instead, install virtual PC (VPC) software such as Oracle’s free VirtualBox (site).
- Next, download a free, 90-day evaluation copy of Win10 Enterprise Edition from the TechNet Evaluation Center site. Or, use Microsoft’s free Media Creation Tool, available from the Get Windows 10 site, to download Win10 Pro.
- Now, set up Win10 in a VPC by following the instructions in the Oct. 16, 2014, Top Story, “How to safely test-drive Win10 — step by step.” NOTE: Do not activate the VPC-installed copy of Windows, even if prompted.
The unactivated, VPC-installed Win10 will be fully functional and will run for a fairly lengthy period — at least 90 days for the Enterprise Edition. Eventually, however, the trial period will end and the OS will begin to operate in a limited-function mode. But you’ll receive abundant warnings before that happens. You should have plenty of time to experiment with the OS, running it “in parallel” with your previous Windows version.
If you decide you like Win10, uninstall the VPC software to wipe out the evaluation copy. Then, upgrade your regular PC to Win10 in the normal manner: through Windows Update or via the Microsoft Get Windows 10 site. Activate the upgraded Windows, if and when prompted.
After that, if you change your mind and want your old setup back, you can restore it from your image backups; or use Win10’s rollback tool — as long as you do so within 30 days of the upgrade. Either way, your original license will be intact.
But, again, if you start with one paid-for Windows license, you should end up with one activated, in-use Windows installation. Period!
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